Tracy. What's eating you, Jack?
Jack. Ah! Never mind. Just a slight headache.
Rona. He is never well when museums are on the schedule.
J. The attic of the nation are all those museums, aren't they?
T. Take it easy Jack, relax.
J. If I could I would. It's annoying when you can't have fun from something, isn't it?
R. Fun? Museums are .educational establishments for advancing and diffusing knowledge. You are not expected to have fun with it like dog shows or flower exhibitions.
J. What a bore!
Henry. A picture gallery is no less enjoyable than a dog show. Stick to me, Jack, and you'll find it terrific, I promise you.
J. Do you? We shall see. (In the museum each visitor is offered a cassette player and earphones to listen to a recorded guide's commentary.)
Voice on the audio tape.
We are in the hall of colonial portraits of the National Portrait Gallery. The Permanent Collection of the Museum represents portraits of heroes and villains, thinkers and doers, conservatives and radicals. Most of them are taken from life-sittings. You will see George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, the artist Mary Cassatt...
J. Heavens, what sparkling eyes that lady on the colonial portrait has! And what a graceful pose!
Maggy. Isn't it lovely! Her face is gentle, she looks as if she was alive.
J. And the texture of her dress! It looks so soft and silky as if you could feel it with your hand.
H. You like realist portraits, don't you?
J. What I really like about the 19th century ladies are their fashions and hairdos. They were gorgeous, weren't they?
You are standing before the portrait of Mrs Alexander Hamilton, painted in 1787 by Ralph Earl. Ralf Earl began his career as an artist on the eve of the American Revolution to become a painter of exceptional breadth and power. Earl captured on canvas the many faces of the young republic...
(In the National Museum of American Art.)
J. Seriously, I like pictures that are true to life, where every leaf and flower is depicted exactly.
Steve. Like in still life? Look, here is one by Raphaelle Peale. Flowers in a vase, watermelons, grapes and cherries. Doesn't it look nice?
J. Not at all! The peel of the grapes and cherries is so transparent that their juice seems ready to burst out. Wow, it makes me feel really hungry. Do we call this art realist, Henry?
H. Well, realist artists' ideal was a truthful account of what lay before their eyes and precise drawing of a landscape, a portrait or a record of those events around them.
Olivia. There is nothing like landscapes to me. I like nature depicted as mysterious and majestic.
H. You seem to like romanticism, don't you?
O. How can you tell a realist landscape from a romantic one?
J. I can tell you easily, Olivia. Wherever you see a romance on a picnic - it's romantic style.
O. Stop pulling my leg, Jack. I am serious.
H. Nature in romanticism is personified, it appears as a grand all-pervading force, indifferent to man but with a life of its own. Romantic artists used exaggerations: the hills and trees are higher, the sea is bluer than in real life. Artists stressed the rugged character of the country and the drama of contrasts.
O. Look at the "Cliffs of the Upper Colorado River" by Thomas Moran. They are fantastically magnificent beneath that formidable cloudy sky.
R. My god, it's perfectly great! It's even hard to say what these cliffs inspire in me: awe, delight, admiration or craving.
J. Crying, aren't you?
R. Why are you being so unbearable, Jack?
Ulaf. No hard feelings, guys. Look over there. That serene sea shore will make you feel better.
Albert. Let me read, Childe Hassam, "The South Ledges: Appledore, 1913".
Richard. Here the colours create a totally different mood, don't they? The rocks and blue water are flooded with sunlight. And the delicate white figure of a lady in the wide-brim hat conveys the spirit of leisure, harmony and optimism.
Frank. And I see the brushwork here is unlike those we have seen. The trace of the brush is left and the character of the work is rapid and sketch-like.
H. Naturally, another style - another expression. This is piece of impressionism. Impressionists sought to capture one instant in time.
J. The moment, stop! You are a wonder!
H. Right you are. Emphasis was placed on capturing the first impression of the subject, it was painted on the spot, in a state of great emotional excitement at the sight of a wonderful world.
J. That's just to my liking. Leisure and pleasure - what a treasure!
M. Just compare these works of the American Renaissance with modern art! I don't like it. It has neither sense nor content, only form which is distorted and ugly in most cases.
H. What's your idea of modern art? If you mean abstract art you are right, for it really rejects depicting real objects and phenomena. Abstractionists sought to express spontaneity and the unconscious aspect of creating by colour patches and lines.
R. And what about the African-American artist William H. Johnson? Remember him who gave in his pictures the story of the Negro as he had existed? His paintings remind me of children's drawings.
H. He is considered a primitivist, and has contributed much to American modernism.
Richard. Say, Henry, contemporary art doesn't only consist of modernists' works, does it?
H. Of course not. There are a great number of styles both of realistic and formalistic trends, and a great deal of masterpieces.
T. We'll see some of them in the Hishhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, I believe.